Day 232: Matthew 26:20, 23-25

I tell you, one of you will betray me… One who dips his bread in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man will die as the Scriptures say he will, but how terrible for that man who will betray the Son of Man!  It would have been better for that man if he had never been born!…So you say.

Jesus is getting ready to eat the Passover seder meal that will later be remembered as “The Last Supper.”  During this final meal meal Jesus makes a shocking disclosure.  He says,I tell you, one of you will betray me.”   Of course the disciples were very upset.  They couldn’t imagine who would do such a thing.  But Jesus repeats it saying, “One who dips his bread in the dish with me will betray me.  The Son of Man will die as the Scriptures say he will, but how terrible for that man who will betray the Son of Man! It would have been better for that man if he had never been born!”

The disciples began to ask, “Surely, Lord, you don’t mean me?”  Eventually Judas said, “Surely, Teacher, you don’t mean me?”  and Jesus answered, “So you say.”   I notice here that while the other disciples call Jesus “Lord,” a term that conveys loyalty and obedience, Judas uses a different term of address – “Teacher” (or “Rabbi”).  Through this slip of the tongue Judas indicates that he isn’t really on board with Jesus’ ministry.

Of course, it turns out Judas is indeed the one who betrays Jesus to the Roman authorities.   After Judas asks Jesus if he is referring to him, Jesus says, “So you say.”  He says this several times between now and his execution.  In the King James Version of the Bible it’s translated as, “Thou hast said.”  To me, it says “You’re saying it but I’m not buying it.” I think in today’s vernacular it would be “Whatever.”  Judas says, “Surely you don’t mean me?” and Jesus replies, “Whatever.”  It doesn’t really matter anymore what I say.  Game up.

Oh, the things that theologians and their churches can find to argue about! Today I’m thinking about the great debate between “Open Communion” and “Closed Communion.”  Here’s a definition of the issue from Wikipedia:

Closed communion is the practice of restricting the serving of the elements of Holy Communion (also called Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper) to those who are members in good standing of a particular church, denomination, sect, or congregation. Though the meaning of the term varies slightly in different Christian theological traditions, it generally means that a church or denomination limits participation either to members of their own church, members of their own denomination, or members of some specific class (e.g., baptized members of evangelical churches).

A closed-communion Church is one that (perhaps with exceptions in unusual circumstances) excludes non-members from receiving communion. This is the practice of all churches dating from before the Protestant Reformation.

Closed communion is the opposite of open communion in which all Christians are invited to partake in the Lord’s Supper.

The Roman Catholic Church practices closed communion, and the rules about who’s in and who’s out are a mile long.  The basic rules are:

  1. You must be a baptized Roman Catholic at least 7 years of age.
  2. You must be in a “state of grace.”
  3. You must not be harboring any unconfessed “mortal sins.”
  4. You must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation (that the wine and bread actually turn into Christ’s blood and body as they are consumed).
  5. You must fast for one hour before receiving communion.
  6. You must not be under “ecclesiastical censure.”  This means that the church deems that you are willfully persisting in a state of sin you are “excommunicated” (no longer eligible to receive communion).

Yes, I know that this is all very complicated and there can be exceptions, but these are the basic rules. Examples of other churches that have closed communion include Orthodox, Baptists, Amish, Church of God in Christ, and some old school Lutheran denominations.  All of them have different rules.

I grew up in the Methodist Church, and they believe in open communion.  The logic is that it is a “converting sacrament” because of “prevenient grace.”  Prevenient grace means that God cares for everyone, even those who haven’t committed their lives to him through a confession of faith.  Because they believe in open communion, the Methodists don’t have many rules about it.  Even so, there are some Methodists who think children shouldn’t be given communion because they are too young to understand.  Others think that people shouldn’t be given communion unless they are baptized. Other denominations that practice open communion are Anglicans, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, and ELCA Lutheran churches.  Each of these churches have different rules and guidelines.

Just for fun I ran into this little interesting little historical footnote on Wikipedia:

Many Scottish Protestant churches used to give tokens to members passing a religious test prior to the day of communion, then required the token for entry. Some US and other churches also used communion tokens.

Imagine having to remember to take your “communion tokens” to church every Sunday.  I imagine the pastor with one of those little change machine belts like they use on the metra trains to dispense and receive communion tokens from all the ogod little girls and boys.

Actually, it was Paul who introduced the concept of exclusionary rules for communion:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (I Corinthians 11:17-34).

Paul’s rules were:

  1. There should be no divisions or factions. (Like that’s ever going to happen, even in a healthy community).
  2. Everyone should eat at the same time. (1,2,3 bottom’s up).
  3. You should be penitential. (The ever popular “I’m not worthy” state of mind).

Further, Paul says that if you do not obey these rules, the communion elements will cause you to become sick and die. I can’t believe he said that!!  Like Holy Communion is some kind of magic potion or hocus pocus that can turn on you. Just like that superstitious, legalistic chicken-slaying Temple worship stuff that Jesus disliked so much.  Paul suggests that the hand of Jesus will reach out from the great beyond and stricken you with illness for not obeying Paul’s rules.  How often did Jesus make people sick?  Like, never?  How often did Paul threaten people?  Even once is one too many times.

So who, according to Paul, are we supposed to be thinking about when we take communion?  Should we be focused on Jesus and his sacrifice and all that he said and did?  Or are we supposed to be thinking about ourselves and our failings?  That certainly isn’t what Jesus said in the words of institution.  Jesus didn’t say to fixate on your sins and inadequacies.  He said to take and eat in remembrance of HIM.  Sorry, Paul, I don’t buy it.  Oh, and Paul, by the way, everybody gets sick.  And everybody dies if you wait long enough.  Whether or not they obey your rules.

It seems like what Paul and all the closed communion folks seem to forget is that Jesus didn’t really have any rules at all on that first Eucharistic experience.  He sat down and ate with a close friend and follower who he knew was going to betray him in a matter of hours. I guess you could say his table was absolutely open, even to those who didn’t “believe in him,” because he already knew that Judas, his betrayer, was not a fan.  Even though Jesus knew that Judas was apparently was not a “believer,” he didn’t turn him away from the table.  So if you were to ask Jesus what he thinks about all those closed communion rules, I think I know what he would say.  He would reply with “So you say.” Yes, I think he would say, “Whatever…”  As in “I can’t do a thing with you people sometimes.”  Eye roll.

What does this scripture say to you?



One thought on “Day 232: Matthew 26:20, 23-25

  1. Justo Gonzalez, a liberation theologian, has pointed out that one of the issues of inclusion has to do with meals. In the letter of Paul to the Galatians, Peter is chastised because he ate with the Gentiles until the visit of a group of fellow Jewish Christians showed up. My point in agreement with the blog is that if anything the last thing the communion experience should be is exclusionary. It symbolizes the open table of humanity.
    In all the Scripture dining scenes Jesus is radically inclusive. In the feeding of the thousands with bread and fish, in his meal with Simon, when he has dinner with Zaccheus, and when he has his last meal on earth, there are no exclusionary rules.
    In the gatherings I have celebrated I have moved evermore to make communion a symbol of a fellowship meal, a democratic meal, and a remembrance of the continuing liberation being effected through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I have said that the table is open, no ifs, ands, and buts, whatever religion or no religion. God is great. All things are possible.

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